Back to North Korea – Rason SEZ

Kindergarten Performance Chongjin, North Korea

Kindergarten Performance Chongjin, North Korea – Photo by Joseph A Ferris III

With so many great pics from my last trip, such as the one above, it’s unfortunate that I’m in such a rush with less then a week turn-abound between DPRK trips. I have had no time to give my photography work and this blog the attention they deserve – arranging visas, train tickets, sleep, laundry, and buying fishing equipment has taken precedence.

Tomorrow I head back up to Yanji to bring a small group of DPRK return visitors into the Rason Special Economic Zone.

Does Rason ring a bell? It’s where American tour guide Kenneth Bae was recently arrested and convicted for unspecified crimes against the government.

I have been receiving plenty of warnings from concerned people that I will become the next pawn on the international stage, but please remember that unlike Kenneth Bae, we will be engaged in legitimate tourism. Laptops and hard drives full of religious materials, and videos profiling human rights abuses will be the last thing I will carry across the border with me. So please don’t worry about me!

5 responses

  1. mbernier2010

    I appreciate that part of your reason for wanting to post this is to let your supporters, friends, and family know you’ll be safe, but it is not helpful to the international effort to release Kenneth Bae (note the spelling to fix the typo in your last paragraph). He has been accused of carrying materials like that, but whether he did in fact do so is a separate question. You earlier said “unspecified crimes”, which seems to contradict the next paragraph. Unfortunately, because of actions like the luring of Ms. Ling (her guide was paid by NK) and the shooting of the tourist at Mt. Kumgang, I do not believe that even his conviction is a clear indication. That, I know, is debatable.

    May 27, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    • Poorly written perhaps, but I had reliable insider information about Bae’s activities (from people on the ground in DPRK who personally knew him), which has since been confirmed by the Pyongyang times.

      I think it is important for people to realize that Rason is open for business and that the only people who get are arrested in the DPRK are those that legitimately break the law there in a serious manner.

      Has the US government formally protested his arrest and asked for his release? I believe not – the US government knew what he was up to and how serious the game he was playing.

      I was surprised to have met several Christain groups traveling in Rason, when I asked them if they were nervous to be there due to the situation over Bae, they told me “no, they were not there breaking any laws like he was”.

      It is also my understanding from sources in DPRK that no amount of internatial effort will get him released, this case is not about him being used as a tool in international politics, the authorities in DPRK see the situation as he did the crime, he will do the time.

      Details of American’s anti-DPRK acts revealed
      http://naenara.com.kp/en/periodic/times/index.php?contents+15877+2013-05-20+692+23

      American citizen Pae Jun Ho was recently convicted of anti-DPRK crimes in the country as the American government and media are questioning the legal proceedings, saying the trial lacks transparency and the DPRK is trying to use the issue for a political deal.
      Pae Jun Ho committed acts of hostility towards the DPRK between 2006 and October 2012, during which he had set up disguised bases in different places of China and conducted vicious anti-DPRK propaganda activities among DPRK visitors and foreigners to goad them into insurgency, before being caught red-handed on November 3 last year while entering Rason City of the DPRK carrying propaganda materials with him, the DPRK Supreme Court spokesman answered KCNA on May 9.

      Pae had reportedly addressed the necessity and urgency of bringing down the DPRK government in different churches of the US and south Korea. Since he was dispatched to China in April 2006 for a long-term Christian mission he had set up safe houses across China and brought in over 1 500 DPRK citizens, Chinese and other foreigners to anti-DPRK lectures—given by himself and south Korean priests—that slandered the Juche idea of the Workers’ Party of Korea and socialism and incited them to join the subversive efforts.
      “Between December 2010 and March 2012 Pae orchestrated the so-called ‘Jericho Plan’ designed to bring our system to collapse by performing religious activities,” the spokesman said, adding that to carry out the plan he sent more than 250 people he had trained to Rason on tourism trips and made a failed attempt to build a base in Rajin Hotel in Rason.
      To give credence to his anti-DPRK propaganda, he noted, Pae gathered and made multimedia presentations to incite more people to take part in the anti-DPRK activities. He worked hard to buy off Song Je Suk and other DPRK travellers to get them to engage in the subversive conspiracy and even committed class-A crimes of violating the supreme dignity of the country, he added.

      “The DPRK Supreme Court held a closed-door trial on April 30 in its court as requested by the indictee and according to Article 270 of the Criminal Procedure Law of the DPRK,” he said.

      As Pae declined to be defended, he noted, he was tried with no defender in line with Article 275 of the Criminal Procedure Law.
      During the arraignment he pleaded guilty to all of his crimes which were fully proved by material evidence and testimonies of the witnesses, he stressed.
      “His crimes are felonies that are subjected to death or life sentence according to Article 60 of the criminal law related to intrigue against the government, but the Supreme Court sentenced him to 15 years of hard labour in consideration of his honest confession and acknowledgement of his wrongdoings,” he said.
      During the prison term the convict will fully enjoy the rights to a prisoner according to the DPRK law, he assured.

      May 28, 2013 at 1:48 am

      • mbernier2010

        I point out the typo and confusion about the term unspecified as a helpful note only–when someone writes enough, little things will creep in of course. No snark intended.

        I understand that the US government is not in fact protesting or trying to get him released, but that does not mean there are no international efforts.

        I would note that the Mt. Kumgang murder, the kidnapping of Japanese citizens, the intentional downing of a civilian airliner, and other things have shown that official statements are not trustworthy. Perhaps they’ve changed their ways: I could believe it given the need for hard currency and the fact that there is new leadership. But I won’t be convinced without several years of trustworthiness.

        For example, I was aware of what he has been accused of but my argument is that there is no way to know what was reality and what was an injustice. The North Koreans claim that he declined to be defended, but after the way they tortured (through the use of rape) Robert Park, I do not have faith that he was not tortured into making that statement. Perhaps he did everything they said, I can’t know of course. And perhaps he was entirely justly treated in his trial, again I can’t know of course. But their behavior in the past has led me to believe that they are willing to use torture and unjust means to get what they want. Maybe Bae made it easier that that for them, or maybe they used those means, but there should be more caveats.

        May 28, 2013 at 2:09 am

      • I see now that the US has asked for release on humanitarian grounds.

        May 28, 2013 at 2:13 am

      • I wish the international community the best of luck in getting him out, I don’t want to see any foreigners jailed there.

        And past incidents are hard to move on from, with trust being such a hard issue for both the DPRK and those who engage them.

        I was receiving hate mail pre Rason trip, people told me I would be the next tour guide to be arrested, and that when I was, that they hoped I would rot in jail since I had been warned. When Bae was arrested the US media simply said a US tour guide was arrested, obviously the situation was a bit more complicated. Between my company and our largest competitor we have 25 years experience in doing DPRK trips with not a single arrest – we plan to keep it that way by keeping it professional.

        May 28, 2013 at 2:36 am

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